Saturday, October 30, 2010

For Anyone Who Thinks They're a Saint (Cuz you probably aren't) Revisited

As some of you know, I've been too busy to blog these days while juggling being a first time mom.  So October has been a month of blog revisits...taking a second look at some favorite posts.  Enjoy!

Philippians 1:6
He who began a good work in you will carry it into completion…

I met Tanya last year during one of our visits down into the project housing one Saturday morning.  Tanya is a 17 year old African American girl.  She’s had a hard life.  Most likely, you wouldn’t even believe me if I told you some of the difficulties she’s been through. 

All that to say, there was something special about Tanya, something behind her loud-mouthed personality that rang with genuine passion.  Something behind her tough exterior that exuded with strength.  There was something, just something that drew me to her.  Tanya and I began a really unique friendship.  We started hanging out on a regular basis and little by little she began to entrust me with the pages of her life’s story; some pages sad, some exciting, and some that made me sick to my stomach just hearing about. 

One day last year, outside of her downtown neighborhood, in my car parked on the side of a one way road, Tanya decided that she needed something more.  Right there in my car, she and I prayed, and she gave her heart to Jesus, and her life to the will of God.  It was a beautiful moment, a moment I will never forget. 

I saw Tanya this weekend.  My husband and I took her out to lunch to catch up with her and spend some time with her.  We had talked over the phone, but I hadn’t seen her in over two months with the business of the holiday season. 

As we talked, she told us the stories of how she is changing her life around.  She’s making decisions to take school seriously, to quit the drug addictions that have been holding her back, to focus on restoring her self-esteem and body image, and frankly, to stay away from the friends that had once held her back.  She’s learning to control her anger and forgive.  She’s learning to love herself.

She told me once, “I never really knew how to care about myself til I met you and you showed me how to care…”

Please don’t get me wrong.  I’m not a saint.  And most likely, neither are you.  I’m realizing this more and more and that is the purpose of this post.  So many times we get fooled into thinking that only certain people have the “gifts” of reaching out…as though doing God's work has something to do with us.  I am here to remind you that that is a blatant lie.  I did nothing for this girl but lead her to true Love…and each and every one of us is called to that.  Because at the end of the day, ministry has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with God.  HE is the one that must work in hearts and lives. 

Beyond ALL our gifts and ALL our love, what I’m amazed by is the fact that in two months….I had absolutely nothing to do with this girl’s spiritual growth and maturation.  I wasn’t even aware that it was happening.  It was entirely, completely, 100% the work of God’s spirit in her life….God’s spirit, who entered her heart a few months ago one evening on the side of the road.  God’s spirit who comes with power, reminding us that He is the one who started this…and He is the one who will finish it.

He who began a good work will see it to completion.  Read that.  Get that.  Understand that.  You who may doubt the salvation of your loved one, you who may cry yourself to sleep for fear that your son, daughter, husband or wife will never know the love of Jesus, you whose faith is wavering because you are not seeing the kind of changes you wanted to see…He who began a good work will see it to completion. 

Let down your pride, and put down your human expectations.  You're not a saint.  This is not your work and it never was.  The only thing asked of you is obedience….the rest is entirely up to Him.  Let him do His job because, I guarantee, the end result will be far more glorious than we could have ever dreamed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Faith Til Death Revisited:

[Some thoughts on faith: Still haven't really grasped the full meaning of these verses, but here are some of my initial thoughts.  Would love to hear your thoughts on what you take from them.]

Hebrews 11:39-40
These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.  

My definition of faith has been put to the test this year.  The main contributor to this challenge has been the list of unknowns that are constantly looming.  It’s hard to have faith in the unknown, in the unseen.  But on the other hand, as I’ve been learning, faith can only truly exist when there are unknowns…when things are unseen.  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (vs. 1).  Once what is unseen becomes what can be seen, it no longer requires faith.  Once what is hoped for becomes what is actual, faith no longer has a function.

That perspective changes things for me.  I’ve always just assumed that faith brought with it proof- the moving of a mountain, the raising of the dead, the healing of the sick.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe all those things do require true faith…but the height of faith comes in the moments before those things occur.  The power is in the hoped for rather than the actual. Waiting for the mountain to move requires more faith than actually watching it move because faith is birthed in the moments of the unseen.  Faith is birthed in the unknown.

That perspective changes things for me because, now, I survey my life with a different measure of faith.  Rather than count the miracles I have witnessed (which I can maybe count on one hand) or the answered prayers…I now look at faith in a new way…I look for the "moments before".  I look for the fertile soil in my life in which God may plant His seeds of faith.  The vague future…the unanswered questions…the prayers still waiting to be crossed off the list…a faith that stands sure in what is hoped for, and certain of what is still unseen.  A faith that continues to believe, even in the face of death.

That verse never struck me so much as it did this time around.  I’ve loved chapter 11 of Hebrews- the “faith hall of fame” as they called it.  The stories of heroes of faith.  Heroes who saw God at work and gave their all for His name.  What solidified their faith even more to me was when I grasped that small verse at the very end, those few words that finally made so much sense in light of the definition of faith: “yet none of them received what had been promised”.  Men and women who were so certain of the unseen that even in their dying moments- having never seen- they held on to their faith, because they knew their God.  And with the voice of Job I hear these faithful say, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in Him” (Job 13:15).

I want this kind of faith.  A faith that is not rooted in the end result, but rooted only in Him.  A faith that doesn’t end with the miracle, but is fueled by it.  A faith that holds fast in the face of the unknown, in the face of the uncertain, and even continues in the face of death. 

Lord, thank you for the unknowns, creating fertile soul for our faith.  We put our hope in You.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Beer and Pizza Revisited:

[As some of you know, the past few weeks (four to be exact) I have been preoccupied by a beautiful little baby girl who has taken every waking (and sleeping) moment  I have.  Inevitably, my time for blogging has decreased, and my posts have been few and far between.  For this reason, and until I can find some extra spare time, I am dedicating the next few blog posts to revisiting my posts from the past...some old thoughts that are worth taking a second look.  May you be encouraged by the past as you look toward your future.]

1 Corinthians 10:31
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 

Since listening to John Piper’s sermon last week, my perspective on things has begun to slowly transform.  He challenged Christians to live this life with one focused pursuit- doing the work of God; pointing others to Him through our love.

He reminded us that this life isn’t for “vacation“, that in fact, we will have eternal vacationing- or as he put it, “eternal TV watching” when we enjoy that which we were made for one day: reveling in the presence of our Lord. 

Ironically, the week after I heard this message- John and I were headed for some of our own “vacationing” in San Francisco.  Don’t get me wrong- I don’t think there is anything wrong with vacationing, in fact- I believe we need it.  I sure did.  We need time built into our lives to enjoy relationships, to enjoy our surroundings, and to simply rest.

But, I believe the underlying question John Piper was addressing in his message is this:  what do we live for?  What do we spend our lives in pursuit of?  Unfortunately, too many times the answer is not the glory of God, but rather a long list of meaningless things. 

So for me, this week, I asked God to change my perspective.  I had asked Him to give me a renewed desire for His glory, and a preoccupation with His work.  And here’s what happened:


The streets of San Francisco are always in a hustle.  It’s a beautiful city, filled with beautiful people.  On our last evening there, John and I decided to have a picnic at Union Square, the park in the center of the city.  We got our Blondie’s pizza, found a table to sit, and sat to enjoy one another’s company and take in the sights of the city.

As we were eating, I noticed a man sitting in a bench beside us.  I couldn’t help but observe that he looked somber.  He sat alone, and every few minutes, he would pick up his wrinkled brown bag, and take a sip of the drink inside.

I couldn’t get his sad look out of my mind.  No matter what I tried to do to distract myself, I found my eyes would keep wandering back to him, wondering what was causing this man to look so serious.  I felt the prodding of the Holy Spirit getting stronger and stronger, the nagging preoccupation that I had asked God for was being birthed inside of my spirit.  So much so, that I couldn’t make it go away even when I tried. 

I turned to him and said, “Sir, are you hungry?  Would you like a slice of Pizza?  We’re going to have plenty left over.”

“I’m not really hungry, but sure, I will take a slice.”
And so our conversation began.  With one simple slice of pizza, Howard entered into our worlds, and we entered into his.

“Are you from the area?” we asked.  “No, I am from Manhattan, visiting San Francisco because my mom is very sick.”

Through the course of the conversation, we learned many things about Howard.  We learned of his deep concern as he watched his mom suffer through a merciless bout with cancer.  We learned of his many regrets- regrets that he had never invested in her life until now.  We learned of his deep worries, worries that she would soon be gone from his life, though she was the most important thing he had.  We learned about his struggle with religion, knowing a God who only loves when we are good- when we obey the rules.  Howard had broken the “rules”, many of them, he said.  In fact, he even said that he was breaking one of the rules in that  very moment, as he sat there with us, washing the last bite of his pizza down with his beer. 

We learned a lot about Howard that day, and then we shared with Him about the love of the God that we knew.  A God who deeply hurts when we are hurting.  A God who cares greatly for our loved ones.  A God who has the power to heal bodies and repair broken relationships.  A God who forgives us even before we ask.  A God who’s lavish love alone brings us to repentance…not the other way around. 

We prayed with Howard that evening, before we said goodbye.  It was a wonderful moment, and afterward he looked up and said, “Wow, that was a powerful prayer”.  God knew exactly what Howard needed to hear that day, and He gave us the words to convey those things. 

I learned a powerful lesson this week.  First, I learned that I am not diligent enough in doing God’s work.  How many Howard’s have I interacted with- not giving a moment’s thought to their spiritual needs?  How many days have gone by where I have not asked God to give me a preoccupation with His work?  How many opportunities have been missed because I frankly didn’t care enough to take the time. 

Secondly, I learned the important truth that no matter what we are doing- we can be used by God.  We don’t have to be at our Saturday morning church ministry.  We don’t have to be at a homeless shelter feeding the poor.  It doesn’t have to be a special moment.  We don’t have to have special words.  And we certainly don’t have to be a special person.  In fact, He is glorified more because we are not.

The truth is, God can and WILL be glorified in every part of our lives- whether or not we take part in that is our decision.   So this week, friends, whether you eat, or whether you drink, whether you work or stay at home, whether you go for a run or to the grocery store, whether you attend a church service or visit a friend, whether you meet a Howard or an old friend- remember this: do it all for the glory of God.  Amen.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

True Life Revisited: Remembering Abe

[This time last year we experienced a great loss.  Our Uncle Abe (Hemo) passed away suddenly in his sleep.

I woke up this morning and glanced at the beautiful baby girl by my bedside.  The old life has passed, and a new life has since then come...this is the sobering reality of life.  It is but a vapor. 

I dedicate this post to my Uncle Abe, a man who has not been forgotten.  This is the blog post I wrote after his death.  Let's take some time to remember our loved ones today...and to consider what it really means to have true life. 

We miss you Abe.  I wish you could have gotten to meet my baby Ella.  She would have loved you, and you would have loved her.  Say hi to Jesus for us:)  ]

Philippians 1:21
For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  

This week I experienced this verse more powerfully than I have ever experienced it before.  This week, the reality of life and death were staring me in the face.  This week, I witnessed the brevity of life, powerless against the impending pledge of death.   You see, this week I said goodbye to a beloved man, as he passed from life into death. 

My Uncle Abe, or Hemo as we affectionately called him- unexpectedly passed away on October 14, 2009 at only 57 years old.  It was a sudden loss and it took us all by surprise.  We were left with feelings of sadness, confusion, regrets, and denial as we faced this hasty new reality.  The pangs of pain and sorrow were so real in those moments.  They still are.  But eventually, the loud noise of sorrow began to part for just a moment- and God began to whisper truth. 

As my husband John and I were traveling the 13 hour trek to the funeral this weekend, we happened to be listening to an old John Piper sermon.  The sermon was regarding the sanctity of life, and John Piper spoke truth that has not stopped ringing in my ears:

Eternal life is more important than temporal life.  But the effect of really believing that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ is that we spend ourselves in this life, not maximizing our comforts here, but showing His love here- especially for the weak and helpless.  

Piper went on to challenge Christians today, to truly live their lives for Christ- remembering that our eternal vacation awaits us in heaven.  For in that is true gain.  We forget that sometimes, don’t we?  We forget that this life is not meant for earthly gains, but rather, passionate, infatuated, obsessive service for the love of Christ.  We forget that this life isn’t meant to be lived as though it is the only, but rather, whole-hearted preparation for the next.  We tend to spend our lives investing in the here and now.  The salary, the house, the cars, the toys, the fun.  Our life begins to represent that we believe that “to live is self” rather than “to live is Christ”.  But, hear this, to live is Christ…. 

Do we really understand what that means?  Do we really understand what it means to live for Christ?  To live in Christ?  To live IS Christ?  What an important fact to face with the cloud of death still hanging over our heads.  As my late college chancellor used to always say: Only one life, will soon be passed.  Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

To live is Christ, to die is truly gain.  This is life.  True life.  What a sobering reminder.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I want Every Detail:

Luke 12:7
Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.

On September 24th, 2010- I became a mother.  There is nothing more incredible than staring into the eyes of your child, marveling in the reality that they are a tiny piece of your very own flesh and blood.  Never in my life have I felt such love overflowing from within me. 

Instantly upon meeting her, I found myself longing to know everything about her.  I want to know all the details about her health, her height and weight, her reflexes.  I want to know what her personality will be like, what she's thinking, and who she will marry.  I want to know everything there is to know about her: my love for her compels me to know her deeply; to know her well.  

There is no detail too small to bring me joy.  Every little aspect of her fingers and toes, every wrinkle on her forehead, every unique facial expression and noise is precious to me.  I delight in knowing her.  I take pride in it.

I believe that in every stage of our life God ushers us into a deeper understanding of who He is and how He loves us.  This season of my life, as a parent, I feel that I have been ushered into a new phase of understanding God and His love for me. 

As I read through the bible, I cannot help but see all the places written in which God is reminding His children that He knows us...and He knows us well.  All our quirks and idiosyncrasies, all our talents, our thoughts, our hopes and our dreams.  Everything that makes us who we are...even the very hairs upon our head are known by Him.  He delights in knowing us. 

And just like every loving parent, hopes that one day, we too, will learn to delight in knowing Him.